A Duty of Care? - Housing and Homelessness in 2018

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In January 2016, a homeless woman died in Wolverhampton.

I was particularly affected by this as I work at the sharp end in tackling homelessness, poverty and social injustice. As a result, I found myself praying with a real sense of urgency, a Spirit-led prayer of repentance on behalf of the Church in our city for corporate manslaughter...

As a former lawyer, I began to wonder whether the church could be said to have a specific duty of care towards the poor and vulnerable in both a legal and biblical sense. If that were true then could we be said to be in breach of that duty of care in a negligent manner by our failure to act in accordance with what the Bible requires of us? Would we – the Church – consequently be held to account for our actions or lack thereof? The Bible has much to say on the subject:

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, it seems clear to me that Jesus established that the failure of the Priest or Levite to have mercy on the Samaritan was a breach of a duty of care, for which they would be held to account, having failed to act with mercy. The lawyer then raises the question who is my neighbour? The answer is anyone and everyone. We are all made in the image of God and all have a God-given potential that is waiting to be realised in us.

In a similar manner to the Priest and Levite do we walk past the rough sleeper by the side of the road? Is our first thought to judge and dismiss or do we remember that they too are made in God’s image and have God-given potential?

Many verses in both the Old and New Testaments refer specifically to how God expects us to treat the poor, such as Isaiah 58, Micah 6v8, Amos 5v24, and Zechariah 7v10, and Matthew 25, Luke 4v18, and James 2v14-17. Surely an in-depth reading of scripture would lead us to the conclusion that the responsibility for social welfare, for caring for the orphan, the widow and the stranger lies firmly with the Church.

In the 19th Century, great heroes of the faith such as William Wilberforce (Slavery), Elizabeth Fry and John Howard (Penal Reform), George Muller (Orphans) and William Booth (Salvation Army), were absolutely convinced of this. In the absence of the welfare state, the Church had a greater role to play in caring for the disadvantaged. Those who found themselves in poverty had nothing and nowhere to turn and so the Church stepped up.

Many would say that, for a variety of different political, ideological, economic and theological reasons, the 20th-century church took a step back and somewhat abdicated its responsibility and the government took over the church’s God-given duties with the creation of the welfare state. The issue with this is that whilst individual members of the government may operate from a place of compassion, the system itself is fundamentally lacking in it. In contrast, compassion is intended to be the primary motivation of the church.

If the biblical duty of care toward the poor lies with the church then the failings of government both national and local in that duty are our failings as the church. Sadly in the 21st-century, it is obvious that the welfare is failing the most vulnerable among us.  

According to the government’s figures, homelessness has risen by 54% since 2010 whilst at the same time funding for homeless care and prevention has halved over the same period. To quote well known satirical political commentator Jonathan Pie, “it is almost as though those two facts are related”.

The need is rising and provision is dropping as a direct result of austerity and reduced funding. Therefore, the church with its own resources of capital, income and more than anything else volunteers should be welcomed in its efforts as we seek together to fight social injustice. Working in partnership together has become essential in tackling social injustice and poverty including homelessness.  The church must once again rise to the challenge of taking its responsibility and duty of care towards the poor and needy seriously; to realise that God will hold us to account for our failures to act with love, justice and mercy towards the vulnerable of our society.

The time is now for us to dare to begin to dream that together in partnership we could make homelessness, poverty and social injustice history across our cities and our country, in Jesus’ name.

Matthieu Lambert

 

 

These reflections are a condensed extract from a paper that I wrote 2 years on this subject of the church’s duty of care to the poor, the full text of which is available at the following link:

http://www.christiansontheleft.org.uk/duty_of_care_full_paper

 

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published this page in Articles 2018-05-30 15:16:47 +0100